Porcupine People

Porcupines are interesting animals. I have seen porcupines in zoos but only once have I seen a porcupine in the open, loose and running wild. It happened as I was riding a bicycle around a lake. As I went around a curve, there between me and the water about six feet from me was a porcupine who was as shocked and surprised to see me as I was to see him. He immediately turned toward me, showed his teeth, and bristled all of his quills.

When I was growing up, I heard stories and tales about porcupines. There were overblown stories of how if you got close to one, they would shoot their quills at you like arrows or spears. You would be in a heap of trouble. Those were over-exaggerated stories to say the least, but until that day on the lakeside I had never actually encountered one in the wild. After I went forty or fifty more yards down the roadway and gathered myself together, my wits and curiosity converged to say, “You need to go look at that guy.” I turned around to see if I could find him again. I could not find him as he apparently was not as anxious to see me as I was to see him. I may never see another one in the wild, but I will never forget the one that I did see.

While I have only seen one porcupine out there on his own, I have met a number of porcupine people in my days. They are interesting, too. Like real porcupines, they have quills they can raise and point at others and use for their own protection and sometimes to hurt others. When they bristle, most folks notice it. If you get close to them, you may get stuck. Their quills are not the kind that are prevalent in the four-legged porcupine family but porcupine people seem to have developed a demeanor that just lets folks know, “Don’t get close to me and don’t appear to in any way offend or disagree with me.”

In that demeanor and sometimes by their words, actions, or emotional expressions, porcupine people let you know they have a protective shell surrounding them. They go about their daily activities for the most part, prickly to everyone they get around like family, friends, and work associates. All who come in contact with them learn to be careful around a porcupine person. Walk on eggshells. Be cautious, or you will get stuck.

Four-legged porcupines apparently find ways of relating without doing a great deal of harm to one other. With all their quills and protective covering, they must be able to get along with each other well enough for propagation of the species. The truth is they need each other. The fact is porcupine people need each other also.

I’m not mad at porcupines. I’m not even upset with porcupine people because if truth be known, all of us at some time or other have been probably been a porcupine person. It’s not the best way to win friends and influence people. It’s not be the best way to get along with whoever you’re forced to be around and engage in a relationship, whether it’s business or social.

In Scripture, you can find porcupine people if you just look closely. You’d run into those folks who were disciples of Jesus who seemed to be a little bit reactionary, who were prickly and maybe at times lived in the porcupine cult. Like who? Well, think about those disciples that Jesus called Sons of Thunder. At times they wanted to reign down wrath and condemnation on others. During those periods in their lives, you may not have wanted to be best friends with them.

Think about the best known of all the disciples: Simon Peter, who in a moment of reaction and outburst jerked out a sword and cut off a man’s ear. He wasn’t always that way, but you might approach him cautiously if you had a disagreement with him and not get close enough to get your ear within shot of his sword. Think about the disciple named Thomas, who we have clearly labeled as Doubting Thomas. Time and again his quick response to matters was, “Well, this is bad and it’s going to get worse. I won’t believe it until I see it.” With a kind of ill-spiritedness, he reacted without faith and believed the end was always near.

So what do we do if we have porcupine people around us? It’s important that we learn to deal with them and try to care for them without getting stuck. Maybe a better question would be, “How do folks learn to deal with us when our quills are out?” The Apostle Paul gave us the best word if we would just listen to him. In Ephesians 4:32 he said, “And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” Paul had likely run into enough porcupine people at churches who bristled and expressed their disagreement with him. Even more likely, enough people had run into Paul when he was vehement about an idea and they wondered what to do with him. All of us might gather in an experience with Jesus to be kind one to another, tender hearted, and willing to forgive because indeed we need each other. The Lord calls us to be a fellowship and a family of faith and support in His Kingdom work.

Today as you go about your business, leave your quills at home. Put on a smile and have a good word for any of the people porcupines you run into. They need you, and at times you will need them.

The author can be contacted at directions@mbcb.org.

Jim Futral

Executive Director-Treasurer